Will sci-fi ideas of today help disabled in future?

Matthew loves Star Trek

Matthew loves Star Trek - Credit: Archant

The Sixties marked the beginning of one of the biggest television and film franchises even created – Star Trek, writes disability columnist Matthew Turk

The original series spawned countless films and a number of spin-off television shows and I am a fan of the entire franchise.

I love the idea and stories of meeting new cultures, learning from other people and an environment where diversity was embraced. Most of all, I loved the technology that was available to those explorers of the future.

One of the most-well known pieces of equipment from this early television programme is the communicator.

It was a small rectangular box which has a part that flips open, allowing the characters to talk to each other over great distances and even to the spaceship in orbit.


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At the time, we believed this technology (along with many other examples) to be the stuff of science fiction rather than something that could actually happen. Yet today, we need to do no more than look at mobile phones.

The creator of modern flip-style mobile phones has said that the communicators in Star Trek were his inspiration.

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This made me think about other technologies we might consider science fiction now but which in the future might actually become reality. One of my other favourite franchises is Iron Man.

Computer intelligence

While I may joke with my dad about building me an Iron Man suit as it would help me get around, I actually much prefer the idea of Jarvis.

This is the computer intelligence that is able to converse with Tony Stark, inside and outside of his Iron Man suit, and carry out his instructions.

I imagine the amount of assistance that a technology like this could be to disabled people.

A few weeks ago I found a video on YouTube that demonstrates something that could just be the beginning of this technology.

Google has developed a pair of glasses which, through voice commands, can do wonderful things.

The user would be able to take photos, videos, search for something on Wikipedia and even send an email to someone.

This technology may be marketed to the general public, focusing on the “cool” factor rather than the advantages of the functions themselves.

I wonder, though, whether this could be a massive step towards independence for disabled people.

There are individuals out there who are unable to use mobile phones. They may not have the hand, finger and thumb movement and the dexterity required.

As far as I am aware there is no facility to completely adapt smartphones for people who have no movement and so they get left behind. Relying on others to use these smartphones for them does not encourage independence.

Even having to ask someone to press a button to enable the voice recognition is not independence.

However, with these new glasses disabled people can have more independence. Even if they need to be turned to face a particular direction, they would then still be able to take a photo themselves.

Fascinating prospect

They would still be able to send an email and include self-taken photos or videos without having to ask someone for assistance because they cannot use their own fingers.

It is a fascinating prospect and I am very interested to see how it develops.

I’d be interested to see if any case studies occur about how a piece of technology like this can provide more independence, even though this is not its original design purpose.

It would also be intriguing to see if this equipment may be advertised to offer more independence for disabled people through health services, adaptation organisations and disability magazines.

I am sure that, if the technology works, it could be so beneficial to those who are unable to use conventional technology.

I think about communicators from Star Trek and Jarvis from the Iron Man films and I would like to hope that technology we think of as science fiction today may become science fact tomorrow.

With that hope comes the even bigger possibility that there will be more technologies in the future that can help disabled people even if they were designed for the general public.

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